Your memories of the life in historic Summerside buildings slated for demolition
'Sad to see that building go, but time marches on'
Plenty of people in Summerside still remember watching movies at The Regent or picking out jewelry at Crockett's — but soon all they'll have are those memories, as the city prepares to demolish four historic properties on the corner of Water and Summer streets.
The city said this week it has purchased the buildings at a cost of more than $900,000 and will tear them down next summer to make way for potential new development.
CBC News gathered memories from Islanders via Facebook, as well as archivist Fred Horne at the Lefurgey Cultural Centre and Archives in Summerside and others.
The building at 12 Summer St. was best known in its several incarnations as The Regent. It opened in 1947 as a cinema, owned by Adele (Delly) and Reg Pope.
"We'd save up all week or get a quarter from my parents" to go to the Regent, recalled Paul MacWilliams, 73, a retired Summerside heritage officer.
He and his friends would line up up early for a chance to sit in the cinema's 50-seat balcony, which they thought was cool. They watched movies starring The Bowery Boys, The Durango Kid and The Lone Ranger. MacWilliams remembers wearing his toy gun and holster to the westerns.
We had it rockin' for a while, and it was a real fun time.— Gordon Lapp
The building dates back to 1919, after fire devastated Summerside's entire commercial district in 1916. Horne said it was first Harding's Garage, having been built for the Harding brothers "exactly at the time when all the ban on automobiles was finally completely lifted on P.E.I."
The Pope family bought the building and in the mid-1930s and '40s Reg Pope operated a dance hall called the Maple Leaf Gardens on the upper floor, which was very popular during wartime, especially with the military base nearby.
Gordon Lapp, who later co-owned the property, recalls Reg's son Peter Pope telling him the fire exit was a metal slide from the lounge to the ground floor exterior — some customers tried to sneak up the slide when the dance hall was full, so the Popes greased it. They could tell those who had tried to sneak in on the slide by their grease-stained suits!
Lapp said to the best of his recollection, during the 1940s the ground floor was Pope's Garage, and cars could drive through the gas station from First Street and out onto Summer Street.
About 1947, the Popes converted the ground floor to The Regent cinema, so named because The Regent had been Adele Pope's favourite cinema growing up in Ottawa, and also for her husband Reg. It operated for several years, with Mrs. Pope a beloved fixture in the ticket booth. The cinema is believed to have closed some time in the 1950s.
Over several years the ground floor of the building would house Peter Pope's Volkswagen dealership and garage, old-school jeweller George Clark and the well-known Bell's Bookstore. Lapp remembered every year heading to Bell's with his mother to trade in his old school books for new or second-hand ones — this was in the 1960s before the education system paid for books.
"Bell's bookstore was the ultimate," commented Harriet Meacher, 80, via Facebook. "They carried the coveted British lead farm animals, my most favourite toys." She said if her spelling was poor to "blame it on the lead toys of my youth."
In 1973, Frances Perry, who also owned Summerside's Capitol Theatre, purchased the building and reopened The Regent cinema. Lapp remembered it well, because she located the Regent's old seats in the attic of the Capitol and hired Lapp, then 16, to refurbish them, as his summer job. He said Perry wanted to open a second theatre to prevent a large theatre conglomerate from opening a multiplex in Summerside. Perry went on to become the first female mayor of Summerside in 1979.
Perry operated the theatre until the about 1980. Then Lapp and Perry's son Emery Perry became business partners, and from 1983 to 1994 ran The Regent as a well-known restaurant and nightclub that would hold 500 patrons, specializing in live music.
"We had it rockin' for a while, and it was a real fun time," Lapp recalled. "It was a time when people used to go out and have fun ... it was full every night."
Acts including The Tragically Hip, Colin James, Valdy, The Northern Pikes, Haywire and Razorboy entertained at The Regent. The partners also opened Legends Sports Bar upstairs in 1985. The Regent's demise, Lapp said, was the closure of the air force base in 1992, as well as the general recession of the 1990s.
The building was idle for about a year before it was purchased by a group including local realtors and operated as Summer Street Barz for a few years, Lapp said.
That's when one night at closing time, Mark Enman met his wife.
I think downtown Summerside definitely needs to move forward.— Lynn (Crockett) Nicholson
"We had known each other in high school and UPEI but had lost touch," Enman said via Facebook. "Then as the last call for alcohol was announced I made my way for the exit, only to be intercepted by a beautiful young woman who wrapped her arms around me. She never let go and we were married later that year in 1999. Sad to see that building go, but time marches on."
Another group bought the building around 2010 and planned to reopen it as The Regent bar, but it didn't come to fruition. There was again interest in 2014 from local Cedric Arsenault, but he said the property needed too much work and abandoned the idea.
In 2018, Lapp helped organize a Regent reunion that brought out 1,200 people over two nights to Summerside's Silver Fox Curling Club.
"People in their 50s and 60s were in their 20s again for one night!" he said.
Crockett's Jewelry store at 281 Water St. was built in 1919, after the aforementioned 1916 fire decimated the grocery store that had been on the site.
According to the provincial government's website of registered historic places, prominent businessmen Herbert Crockett and J. Edward Gallant used the services of architect George Baker for their new shared space — Gallant's drugstore and Crockett's jewlery, under one roof, and office space above.
Herb Crockett sold the jewelry store in 1921 but purchased it again in 1925, and his sons Carl and Harold ran it together until the 1960s, when Carl's son Parker took over. Gallant's drugstore was sold in 1949 to pharmacist Roy Boates, who operated it until 1974 and then sold it to Crockett's, who took over the whole ground floor. Lynn (Crockett) Nicholson says she operated the store until 2013 when she retired. She sold it in 2017.
It'd be a shame to see those particular two ones go.— Peter Holman
"I'm OK with that," Nicholson said of the planned demolition. "I think downtown Summerside definitely needs to move forward. Yes our family would be sad it's coming down because it's part of history — but there's lots more history to come.
"We're all part of the fabric, we're like a big quilt."
"A lot of my wedding gifts from Sept. 3, 1960, came from Crockett's," said Harriet Meacher, including beautiful fine crystal, cutlery and china.
The Royal Bank/Purple Parrot
The stately stone building at 285 Water St., to the west of Crockett's Jewelry, was built in 1950 for the Royal Bank in what was then a very modern style, and operated there until the late 1980s.
"It reflects very well the architectural style of the mid-century and contributes to the historic Water Street streetscape as does its neighbour the Crockett-Gallant building," said Horne.
In 1989 or so the company built a new bank across the street and sold its old location. It became The Purple Parrot restaurant and bar, and often hosted live music.
The last sign of The Purple Parrot is a notice in P.E.I.'s Royal Gazette of February 2001 that the business name was expiring.
Cooke Insurance Building
The Cooke Insurance building at 8 Summer St. is a small building between Crockett's and the Regent.
Lapp said he and Emery Perry built the structure in about 1986, having purchased the land from Parker Crockett. They then sold it to the Summerside office of Cooke Insurance. It is not clear when it ceased operation.
May not be over yet?
The Summerside and Area Historical Society is headed up by Peter Holman, who helped fight successfully a few years ago to save the Holman Homestead in Summerside from demolition — it is now restored and is a successful ice cream parlour.
Holman acknowledges the Regent and Cooke buildings are almost certainly too far gone to save. But he believes the Crockett Building is not, and says the old bank next door is a heritage landmark.
"It'd be a shame to see those particular two ones go," Holman said.
Holman said the society plans to meet this coming week to talk about what the group might be able to do to save at least the fronts of those buildings. He says it is often done in other historic downtowns, to preserve their unique character.